Thursday, September 4, 2014

A return to Auschwitz

The Dutch delegation at the dedication of the international memorial at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp site,
January, 1952: That's my Dad on the left; his close friend, Jacques Furth (third from the right). (photo
(33rd in a series)
      One element of Louis Van Thyn's story that fascinated me was that in January 1952, he returned to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp -- some 8 1/2 years after he arrived there as one of the thousands of prisoners.
      Don't know how Dad could do that, but he did. I know I never want to see that place. I know people who have made the visit there and have seen that place of horrors. Not me. No, thank you.
From On behalf of the
 Dutch delegation, Bets Roos and Louis van
 Thijn fill an urn with ashes from one of the
 lime pits in the extermination camp.
Photo NAC
    But there was a good purpose for his return: the establishment of an international monument.
Representatives from the many countries affected by the Holocaust came to Auschwitz as part of the monument committee.
      Dad was part of the Dutch delegation. So were his first sister-in-law, Eva Furth, and her husband, Jacques Furth -- both Dad's close friends. In fact, Dad played a significant role.
      From the Dutch web site "As part of the ceremony, each delegation --  including the Dutch representatives -- filled an urn with ashes. This ash is the only tangible reminder of the millions of people murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau."
      Dad was one of the two people from The Netherlands to fill the urn (see photo).
      The urn was brought back to Amsterdam and became part of the Auschwitz memorial there. Designed by Dutch artist/writer Jan Wolkers, it is a display of broken mirrors, in which the skies are reflected, day and night.
        In 1993, the memorial was moved from its original location and dedicated in Wertheim Park, just down the street from the Schouwburg, the converted theater which the Germans used as the gathering point for deportation for their Jewish prisoners in Holland.
         We've seen the memorial twice, in 1991 and -- with my wife Bea -- on our trip to The Netherlands a year ago. The message: Broken mirrors, broken lives.
         Each Jan. 27 -- the date of the death camp's liberation -- there is an Auschwitz remembrance service at the Amsterdam memorial.
      There is a back story to this, my sister Elsa reminded me. When our parents applied to immigrate to America, Dad did not disclose the trip on the form. "I think he was told not to, by the people from the organization [the Dutch Auschwitz committee] who sponsored the trip," Elsa said.
      It was suspected by some Dutch government officials that the committee -- of which our aunt, Eva, was a founder and leader -- was a front for Communist Party activities. As I have noted before in this series, Eva -- "Tante Eef," in Dutch -- was a card-carrying Communist. Yes, she was.
      Can't explain it, people. Neither could my mother and father, who had many a philosophical argument with her, especially after we came to the United States.
      Back to the story, from Elsa: "Apparently, the U.S. government knew about [the trip], since Poland was a Communist country, and Daddy was questioned. He was, of course, cleared from Communist activity and allowed to immigrate."
       Thank goodness for that.
         (Next: End of a life, end of this story)

1 comment:

  1. From Kitty van der Woude: Thank you so much for this blog. A number of years ago (my sister) Reina and I went with the Auschwitz committee to a number of concentration camps, among them Auschwitz and Sobibor. By far the bravest thing I ever did. Stay away.